Our friends at the bush pilot blog Oddball Pilot are back at it with a new interview. Oddball's Aidan Loehr talks with CloudDancer, an Alaska bush pilot "turned airline captain and author."
Several years ago some books started popping up in pilot houses around Western Alaska. They were titled CloudDancer’s Alaskan Chronicles, and featured a picture of the author on the back cover–with a paper bag over his head. The story, as it was told to me, was that he had previously flown around the Kotzebue area in the 1970s or 1980s, and currently flew for a reputable airline. The stories in the books were supposed to be accurate tales from his days as a bush pilot. The bag was to protect his airline job once the stories got out. (The bag certainly added an air of mystery to the books … and the hinting from various pilots who said they knew CloudDancer’s real identity furthered the legend!)
At the time I was fairly burnt out on Alaskan aviation and the last thing I wanted was to read someone else’s sensationalized accounts. As a result, I missed several years of truly entertaining and accurate accounts of the flying life in Western Alaska.
When I finally did pick up the first book, I started at a random chapter and noticed the mention of a Polar Bear. Later that night I had finished all 231 pages, and started searching under the sofa for Volume II.
Since then I’ve read the first two books all the way through and started on the third (there is also a fourth book out). The stories in the first two books are told in a larger-than-life, exuberant style–and it works. I often tone down my own Alaskan flying stories. Other pilots flat out don’t believe you or think you’re boasting about unlikely, seldom-performed exploits. Cloudy’s style makes these commonplace events both believable and entertaining at the same time.
The third book takes on a more somber tone as Cloudy talks about lost companions. While the accident rate is down in Alaska, we all have good friends who are missing from the dinner table. It’s good to see Cloudy tackle this subject and adopt a more serious tone. I’m looking forward to cracking open the fourth volume to see where the winds are blowing him now, and to see how his writing style has continued to evolve.
Cloudy contacted Mike and me this past spring, but many months and several missed opportunities passed before we managed to get him on the phone to have a chat. When we finally connected in September, it turned out to be an even better discussion then we’d expected. We chatted about what it was like to fly in Kotzebue in the 1970s and 1980s–when it was still the wild west (at least to a 243-hour pilot from Texas!). We also got Cloudy’s perspective on making the shift from the world of a bush pilot to the highly regimented world of a Part 121 airline.
If you have an interest in Alaskan aviation, CloudDancer’s Alaskan Chronicles are well worth a read!
And if you want to check out the interview visit Loehr's Oddball audio recording with CloudDancer here.